Are you using the tools given to you?

Driving through my local high street this week, yet again I am dumbfounded at people crossing willy-nilly when, even though it is less than half a mile long, the high street has three zebra crossings.

The only saving grace (and probably why the accident rate is low), is the high street is also full of speed bumps which at least forces people to slow down. Surely, regardless of the direction they walk in, the pedestrians will rapidly reach a zebra crossing at which to cross, which is especially important if they have children? But no, they cross wherever. So I found myself asking the question “why?” Why are people reluctant to follow a prescribed path, even when, in this case, their safety depends on it?

Looking at it with fresh eyes (and a little help from google maps) the reason is obvious! Review the zebra crossings, themselves…well, whilst their positioning might have had some reasoning at some time, it obviously bears no relevance to the needs of the pedestrians of today. People are coming out directly from the large shops and mostly using the large flat topped speed bump as crossing points, indeed, to compound it, the sleeping policemen are identical in every way to the zebra crossing, but are minus the white lines. If it wasn’t for the foolhardiness of the pedestrians, I’d find their reluctance to follow the prescribed path and cross at the appropriate place, amusing.

In business, when something has no meaning or relevance to a person’s wishes or needs, this same reluctance can also be seen. How many times have you come across a process, or a tool that, on the face of it, is well defined and would seemingly do its job but, in practice, is not used or other methods of working have been found?

People will always find ways and means of achieving their aims, and if the tools (or the crossings in my high street) don’t meet their needs, they will use something else. Conversely, if they are forced in a specific direction or required to use a system that they are uncomfortable with, it is very likely that they will manifest all the classic signs of being resistant to change, e.g. tension, stress, reduction in output, hostility.

Harvard Business Review published an article some time ago, (the full details of which can be found here) which outlined research that had been conducted as to why (and how) the resistance to change manifests itself; it made very interesting reading. One experiment conducted introduced a change to differing groups of people. When introduced to the first ‘non-participation’ group, the members were merely advised of the change. With other groups, it was introduced, but this time with varying levels of participation encouraged.

The result … the productivity of the ‘non-participation’ group immediately dropped to about 2/3rds of its previous output, and stayed at that throughout the 30 day period after the change was introduced and signs of the resistance to change developed almost immediately. For the other groups, the result of the changes was significantly different and it would seem that the more involved the group members were, the less resistance they demonstrated; although there was a smaller initial drop it was followed by a very rapid recovery to the previous output rate, and then beyond; and at best there were no signs of hostility to staff or supervisor during the experiment period.

So, are you using the tools prescribed to you, or are you following a different path? Are team members fully embracing the change or disagreeing with the direction set out? Are you introducing change and finding that it is being met with resistance?

My suggestion would be, take a look again at what you are trying to achieve … talk, communicate, embrace the wealth of experience within your teams, and encourage input and participation. You might not always get the smooth ride that you perhaps would like, but you are more likely to get a better outcome.